Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness

Q. 76: Which is the ninth commandment? 
Answer: The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Q. 77: What is required in the ninth commandment?
Answer: The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbour's good name, especially in witness bearing.

Q. 78: What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?
Answer: The ninth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbour's, good name. (WCF)

As the catechism points out, there are at least two aspects to the ninth commandment: truth and a person’s good name. Bearing false witness against your neighbor involves lying and unjust injury to his good name. Bearing false witness also undermines the whole administration of justice, which is why false assertions in court were taken so seriously in the law of God (Deut. 19:15-21).

We ought to be honest and faithful, being true to others by speaking truthfully, keeping far from deceit and falsehood. “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22). “Speak the truth to one another…” (Zech. 8:16). Both 1 Timothy 1:10 and Revelation 21:8 place “liars” among the ungodly with murderers, the sexually immoral, etc. This duty does not justify speaking the truth unseasonably or to evil ends (Prov. 29:11, 1 Sam. 22:9-10). There are also times when deception may be justified to save life against a hostile enemy (Josh. 2:4-6, 8:3-9). Yet we must be very careful to not abuse this exception, which is like the exception regarding taking life in self-defense, knowing how we are prone to justify deceit when things get difficult. Our general duty is to speak the truth, and only the truth, in all things, without deception.

We also ought to respect and value our own good name and the good name of our neighbor. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). A person’s reputation is one of his most precious possessions. To steal it from him is a grave injustice. If people do not trust you, you will find many things very difficult. And a good reputation is more easy to destroy than to build. We ought to be very careful with the reputations of others, lest we carelessly damage them. We should freely acknowledge the gifts and graces of others, defend their innocency, being ready to receive a good report and disinclined to admit an evil report concerning them, discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers (WLC 144). Claims of wrongdoing should not be ignored, but they should be investigated and validated before they are accepted (Prov. 18:17, 25:7b-10, Deut. 19:18). The righteous man is described as one who “backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour” (Ps. 15:3).

We are told, “You shall not spread a false report” (Ex. 23:1), a very relevant command in our day when it is so easy to share news. By proactively guarding against false reports, you will contribute to the well-being of society and “your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you” (Prov. 3:29). Preserving truth and honesty is a shared project. It both requires you to be discerning with the reports you read and hear, as well as discerning with the reports you share. It not only forbids slander rooted in malicious intent, but it also forbids negligence in the effort to guard against falsehood and preserve the good name of others.

No comments: